Emotional Incest

Why Expecting your child to be your friend is bad for them?

Emotional Incest Is a form of emotional abuse where a child is forced to support the parent

Though emotional incest is different from physical incest, it is damaging. It’s subtle unlike physical incest. The signs are not obvious, but the damage is lasting.

We have all experienced emotional incest to some extent and probably also inflicted the same on our children.

The parent does not have to take the child to bed for emotional incest to happen. When a parent makes the child their emotional support, the child becomes the parents confidante and friend. The parent shares with the child issues they are having in their relationship with the other parent and the child is expected to support the parent like an adult. This is emotional incest.

The parent becomes the ‘small’ one needing support and the child is forced to become the adult who has to provide support. This role reversal is confusing for the child and the emotional burden and responsibility of this is too much for the child to carry.

Children love both parents. When one parent pulls the child away from the other, expecting the child to solve something for the parents, the child feels torn between both parents. If they are loyal to one they have to be disloyal to the other and also lose favor with the other. The end result is always that the child loses out. They lose out on the love of one parent who they are pitched against. They may feel guilty expressing love to this parent and therefore hold back these feelings.

Normally the child is drawn into a supportive role by the opposite sex parent. So daughters may be used as emotional support by fathers and sons by their mother. When the child is unwittingly thrown into this supporting role, there are many long term detrimental effects on the child and their psyche.

The child has to choose one parent over another. This is difficult, as they love both parents and the pressure to choose one side can create a lot of emotional turmoil.

The child caught in this may feel trapped as they cannot show their love for the other parent. They feel guilty expressing love for the dis-favored parent and may feel like they are being unfaithful to the parent who they are supporting. If the child is constantly playing this role of a support to one parent, they may never really get to be close to the other parent and will miss out completely on that parents love, bonding and learning. The child’s development could be incomplete as both parents are necessary to prepare the child mentally, physically and emotionally to face the challenges of the world.

On the one hand since the child is favored by one parent, this can cause of envy from his siblings who don’t get the same attention from the parent. They may start isolating him due to their insecurities. This hostility created in childhood due to no fault of the child may continue and relations between siblings can be affected even in adulthood

On the flip side the attention this child gets from one parent can give them a sense of entitlement. They start considering themselves special. Daddy’s princess or mummy’s prince. These children may feel a false sense of self importance which makes it difficult for them to adjust to relationships where they are not the center of attention

Emotional incest can lead to incomplete development of masculinity/femininity in children, and a behavior of seeking a parent in their future partner

Children develop their sense of masculinity or femininity with the same sex parent. In emotional incest they are pulled into the sphere of the opposite sex parent, so this development is incomplete.

The child gets cut off in their full emotional contact with the same sex parent so they lose out on this. In future relationships the girl may expect from her partner the same kind of love she got from her father and the boy may expect from his partner the same kind of love he got from his mother. Difficulties can arise in future relations as they will relate to their partner as they did to their parent. Since the child could not get access to the same sex parent, the development of masculinity in boys and femininity in girls may be incomplete. The way they relate to the opposite sex will be influenced by how they related to their parents.

A big risk in emotional incest is that it could lead to physical incest. The daughter who is drawn into fathers sphere of influence and starts judging her mother as not good enough may feel like she needs to help her father feel better. She may start childishly believing that she would be a better partner for her father. This may lead to her getting entangled in her fathers physical needs, with a belief that she can give her father the love that her mother could not.

The mother who may be angry with her husband, and men in general who have abused her, will teach her son to be overly sensitive to women. Her son will sense the mothers anger towards men and may start viewing men as dangerous. He may get confused about his own masculinity and he may start fearing becoming a man like his father or grandfather who the mother does not like. He will be confused about the expression of his masculinity and about whats expected from him.

Emotional incest is most common when one spouse is not available because either the couple is separated or divorced or either one of the parents has passed away. Anyhow it is also very common in households where both spouses are present.

Emotional incest occurs due to trauma of loss, carried from previous generations. This can be healed to prevent emotional incest in present and future generations

Constellation therapy shows that the parent who involves the child in this emotional incest has probably grown up in an environment where the parent was himself physically or emotionally abused. Its possible that their own parent was also a victim of abuse or had suffered a trauma of loss. eg. someone a few generations back lost their father at a very young age and suddenly had to carry the burden of taking care of the siblings and mother. The effect of that trauma and burden they felt may be suppressed deep in the psyche of the person. When they have children of their own, the original trauma of loss and the memories of a traumatic childhood can get triggered. The person may not be able to cope with this flood of traumatic memories and may then find release in physical violence on their own children, who may then perpetrate the energy of their suppressed anger on their family in the form of emotional abuse and emotional incest.

With systemic constellation therapy we go back to the original trauma and acknowledge the difficult fate of the child who was left to carry the burden of his mother and siblings. When the difficult fate of the child is given a place in the system, he feels acknowledged and this helps to release the pent up frustration and anger. Now he can connect to his own children as a father rather than getting triggered by their presence. The pattern of violence and abuse in the system can come to an end when each person has been acknowledged for their difficulties and honored for their sacrifices.

Constellation therapy shows that trauma is carried down from previous generations. Events that took place in the family 4 to 5 generations back can still have an effect on the family system and its members. The unhealed energy from past trauma remains in the family system and could be unconsciously carried into future generations. When the past event has been healed and honored only then can the descendants be free from its effects and can live their lives fully.

Ritu Kabra

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